Presidential guards open fire at Kabul rally

2015-11-11 16:58
A burning public market building in Pashtunistan square in Kabul. (Massoud Hossain, AFP)

A burning public market building in Pashtunistan square in Kabul. (Massoud Hossain, AFP)

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Kabul - Afghan presidential guards opened fire on Wednesday to disperse thousands of protesters marching outside the palace compound in Kabul to denounce recent abductions and killings of seven members of the Hazara Shi'ite minority.

The shooting, which the Public Health Ministry said wounded seven people, occurred as some of the demonstrators tried to scale the walls of the palace at Pashtunistan Square. It was not immediately clear if President Ashraf Ghani was inside the heavily fortified palace at the time.

Ghani was due to make a live television address to the nation later on Wednesday, his deputy spokesman Zafar Hashemi tweeted.

Earlier in the day, about 10 000 rallied in the centre of the Afghan capital, carrying coffins of seven Hazaras whose beheaded bodies were found this week and calling for a new government that could ensure security in the country.

"About 100 people were trying to get into the palace by climbing over the wall," said Ahmad Sharif, 36, who took part in the rally. He said he saw one protester hit by gunshots.

Kabul's deputy police chief Gul Agha Rouhani said security forces shot in the air to disperse the protesters trying to scale the palace walls. He could not confirm reports of injuries.

Later, riot police took up positions at the gates as a tense calm returned to the crowd and some people began to disperse.

The protesters had arrived at the palace gates after walking for almost four hours carrying the green-draped coffins of four men, two women and child whose bodies were found Saturday in the southeastern province of Zabul.

The protesters held banners and photos of the victims - including one of a nine-year-old Hazara girl named Tabasum - as they chanted "Death to the Taliban," ''Down with the Government" and "Death to Pakistan."

The seven were seized in neighbouring Ghazni province up to six months ago, though it was never clear who was behind the abductions.

Non-local terrorists

Afghanistan's spy agency dismissed Taliban claims that affiliates of the Islamic State group were behind the killings. In the past five days, rival Taliban groups have been fighting each other in the region where the bodies were found.

The bodies of the seven were brought 380km to Kabul from Zabul on Tuesday. Protesters held an overnight vigil before beginning their march early Wednesday.

Ghani sent a delegation to Ghazni to investigate the killings, his office said, describing the abductors as "mainly non-local terrorists."

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan condemned the killings and said they could constitute a war crime. Killing and kidnapping civilians are "serious violations of international humanitarian law," UNAMA chief Nicholas Haysom said and called for the perpetrators to be held accountable.

The Kabul marchers called on Ghani and his Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah to resign. "We came to the front gate of palace to raise our voices for justice and to condemn all acts of murder in the country," said Sakhi Rizayee 37, one of the organizers of the protest.

The demonstrators included members of all Afghanistan's ethnic groups, according to activist Zahra Sepehr, who said the turnout was about 10,000.

This would make it the biggest demonstration in Kabul since the killing of a young woman, Farkhunda, by a mob in March.

Taliban

"We want justice and we want this government, Ghani and Abdullah, to go so that we can have a government that protects all the people of the country and brings security to the whole country," Sepehr told The Associated Press.

The Taliban have stepped up their fight across Afghanistan this year in an effort to topple the government. The Islamic State group also has had an emerging presence, especially in Zabul and southeastern Nangarhar province, according to Afghan officials.

The insurgents have also linked up in some parts of the country with other militant groups, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Many IMU followers in Afghanistan, including those in Zabul, have declared loyalty to ISIS, officials have said.

Afghanistan's Hazaras, who are predominantly Shi'ite, have been attacked in the past and this year, many of them have been the victims in a number of large-scale abductions.

Another activist and protester in Kabul, Habibullah, who goes by only one name, said Wednesday's demonstration aimed to show the unity of the Afghan people, regardless of ethnicity or sect.

"Our voice wants justice, brotherhood, sanctity of life, peace and equality," he said. "No one can tolerate any longer the situation we have in the country."

Read more on:    taliban  |  ashraf ghani  |  afghanistan

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